Gwinnett Police audit found extra money

Following multiple internal thefts over the past year, an audit of a Gwinnett police bank account used for undercover drug purchases found mistakes in operating procedure but no evidence of more missing funds.

In fact, there was too much money in the account.

The January audit uncovered inconsistent training methods and incomplet safeguards surrounding the money made available to narcotics investigators. Gwinnett police asked the county to review the "buy money" account after a $1,200 overage appeared.

Buy money comes from assets forfeited by convicted criminals and the sale of condemned property. The money is maintained in a bank account used by investigators to purchase drugs in undercover sting operations. Investigators can withdraw up to $500, sergeants up to $1,000 and lieutenants up to $3,000. A supervisor reconciles the bank records with daily expenditure reports.

The county's Performance Analysis division determined the $1,200 overage was caused by imprecise bookkeeping. However, the audit cited one example in which a narcotics investigator acting alone withdrew funds from a safe twice in the same day. This circumstance might have been extreme, but it should not have been condoned, the audit concluded.

The report recommended that two people always should be present when the safe is opened to reduce the risk of internal theft. The audit also asked that the department track cash disbursements to each individual officer instead of only to collective unit activities.

"I personally am confident that the folks in charge understand the need for these controls and they are actively pursuing these controls," said Matthew Whitley, Gwinnett County Performance Analysis director.

Tightened procedures recommended in the audit probably helped the department discover a subsequent internal theft: An unspecified amount of cocaine turned up  missing from a narcotics locker on March 19, said Officer Brian Kelly, Gwinnett police spokesman. The GBI is investigating.

"We learn from our mistakes just like any other entity out there," Kelly said. "There is no way to forecast the way technology changes and to put perfect preemptive policies in place."

The investigation of the missing cocaine came six months after the arrests of two former narcotics officers accused of tampering with funds used for drug investigations. Maj. David Butler, a narcotics unit supervisor, allegedly stole $4,000 from a safe at police headquarters. Narcotics investigator Vennie Harden allegedly forged a supervisor's name to obtain funds on three occasions.

After the Harden and Butler arrests, the department introduced more stringent accounting procedures for the buy money. The department now conducts surprise audits in addition to quarterly audits. All recommendations from the county's audit have been incorporated into department procedures, Kelly said.